Centennials, Brands, and Shopping



June 22, 2016

“It would be cool if companies asked me what I liked…and actually listened.” – Caitlyn, 17

Centennials have influence. Their own spending power is huge – an estimated $44B annually, which doesn’t account for the (often very expensive) decisions they help their parents make. How and where do Centennials shop? To which brands are they loyal? Read on to learn more.

1. Centennials are researchers and social shoppers who rely on outside opinions to make buying decisions. Katrina, a 17-year-old, explained her shopping habits: “I read the reviews and go by what my friends have said about the item. Then I go to the store to check it out and ask the person who is working there about the item.” Just like Katrina, the other Centennials we talked to made it clear that they listened to people they trusted and those opinions heavily influenced what they purchased. Who do Centennials trust? Friends and family were the most cited resources. Somewhat unexpectedly, though, were virtual friends, or favorite online personalities (bloggers and YouTubers) with whom Centennials perceived to have established a relationship even though the communication was sometimes only one-way. Finally, as a last step before they complete their purchase journey, Centennials seem to rely heavily on in-store sales people.

Bottom line: Don’t only focus on the online experiences that you curate; also pay attention to your ratings and reviews. Use online personalities as influencers. Ensure your in-store sales people are knowledgeable about your product, authentic, and honest (Centennials are surprisingly savvy and unforgiving about companies that are not genuine). They should also speak in terms and lingo that Centennials understand.

2. While the great majority of all transactions start with digital research, Centennials are swinging the pendulum back to in-store shopping. Only 38% of Centennials make most purchases online. In other words, though they are constantly connected for research and browsing on their mobile devices, they prefer shopping in brick and mortar shops. This isn’t surprising when you consider that 83% of Centennials prefer face-to-face communication. But why do they prefer to shop in person? There are many potential reasons: they want to touch and feel the product; they want to talk with someone knowledgeable about the product; they can receive the product immediately instead of waiting for sometimes costly shipping. Regardless of the reason, brick and mortar stores aren’t going away anytime soon.

Bottom line: Don’t ignore your in-store experience for this demographic. Centennials don’t care about your channel structure, only that your physical and digital experiences are connected and that they can move seamlessly between them.

3. Centennials have favorite brands to which they are very loyal, but the reason for their loyalty surprised us. Hint: it wasn’t because of a company’s social consciousness. Elijah, a 14-year-old, said it well: “When I’m buying something from a company, I look at the quality of their products and the price rather than those things (like employment practices and environmental policies). I feel like their product quality and their price reflects who they are as a business.” When asked to talk about a brand she trusted, Alexandra, a 14-year-old, said: “I trust these brands very much because they are both of good quality and the company stands behind their brand.”  We heard time and time again that value, that perfect intersection of price and quality, is more important than social consciousness, than trends, and even than where their friends shopped.

Bottom line: Value reigns supreme. Don’t expect to use trends or corporate social responsibility to win over Centennials if your products aren’t of high quality or are too high priced. These consumers are conscious, but that consciousness starts with their wallets.

Come back next week, for our final installment in the Centennials series, to learn about Centennials and how they will approach their careers.